ONE of the country’s youngest Christian charities has formed a partnership with a 1000-year-old Roman Catholic lay religious order to support men recovering from drug addiction.
The Nehemiah Project, which was launched in south London in 1996 by Evangelical Anglicans, is being backed by the British section of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which was founded in the 11th century. The Order is spending about £500,000 over the next five years to expand the project’s activities. The first fruits of the arrangement were shown this month when a house in Croydon was formally opened to offer rehabilitation for six men.
Dr John Patience, the chief executive of Nehemiah, which is now an ecumenical group, said: “It’s an unexpected partnership. It’s fantastic news, and it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to grow our work around the country.
“In spite of the very different ages and origins of the two organisations, we have a much-shared commitment to care for the vulnerable. It’s great to be working with Christians from a wide range of traditions, along with people of other faiths and no faith at all. We’ve even been recommended by a local imam, who has seen our ethos and our success rate.”
Most of those helped by the project are ex-prisoners. In the past five years, only five per cent of its participants have returned to prison, compared with a national average of nearly 50 per cent of released prisoners’ reoffending within 12 months. It was recommended to the Order by Monsignor Roger Reader, an RC priest and prison chaplain.
“His vision was to see men supported beyond prison,” Dr Patience said. “He’d seen what we were achieving, and commended us to them.”
The Order of Malta is one of the oldest institutions in the West. It is active in 120 countries, and is involved in a variety of medical, social, and humanitarian projects. It has permanent observer status at the UN.
The Project currently runs an eight-bedroom house in Tooting Bec, south London, where men join a 12-week rehabilitation course. They then move on to one of two other properties in south London, and prepare to find work and re-enter society.
Nehemiah’s development director, Lois Momoh, said: “It costs over £40,000 a year to keep a man in prison, but only a only a quarter of that for us to intensively support a man to the point where they have recovered their lives. They have usually done a detox programme in prison, and we accept them only if they are drug-free.
“The programme provides holistic support in all areas of their life, as we want them to have a sustainable recovery. There is no Christian element to the programme, but chaplains do come in, and prayers are held once a week for those who wish.”
She said that the Order was looking for a project that could fulfil its desire to help people in prison and their families. “It is a huge commitment; the house in Croydon will hopefully be the first of many more. The ultimate desire is to have a Nehemiah house in every diocese.
“We are looking at opening our first house outside London, in Bury St Edmunds, later this year or early next, and at other London boroughs and elsewhere in the UK when the opportunity arises.”